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Work By Female Scientists Gets Judged More Harshly: Study

Posted: Apr 19, 2013 2:00 PM by Mary Elizabeth Dallas

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FRIDAY, April 19 (HealthDay News) -- Gender plays a role in how researchers perceive the work of other scientists, according to a new study.

Researchers at Ohio State University found that scientific studies written by men were viewed as higher quality than identical studies listing female authors. This gender bias, they noted, is significant and will have important implications over the course of a woman's career in science.

"In grant proposals, promotion and tenure reviews, hiring decisions and so on, a scholar's sex will be a relevant factor in how she or he is evaluated," study lead author Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, associate professor of communication at The Ohio State University, said in a university news release. "All of these small factors will add up over the course of a career and may prevent some women from reaching the same career heights as men."

The study was published online recently in the journal Science Communication.

In conducting the study, the researchers asked nearly 250 graduate students in communication from universities around the United States to read and evaluate 15 short summaries, or abstracts, of studies presented at an academic conference. Some of the studies listed two male authors, while others listed two female authors.

The researchers also rotated the authors listed on the studies. As a result, some participants thought certain studies were authored by men, while others thought they were written by women.

The summaries were rated for quality, including how "important" and "innovative" they were. The study revealed that, overall, the summaries written by men were rated more highly than those with female authors. Women involved in the study did not differ from male participants in how they perceived the summaries. The researchers noted that 70 percent of the study participants were women, which could help explain why a difference was not found.

"The participants were reading abstracts of 150 words or so and rating their quality," Knobloch-Westerwick said. "The author names were not displayed prominently and the grad students probably barely glanced at them -- but still they had this effect."

The study also revealed that topics played a role in how participants viewed the research summaries. Topics traditionally associated with men, such as political communication, computers, and news and journalism, were rated more highly when written by men.

The participants also were asked if they would like to discuss research and collaborate with one of the study's authors. The studies on traditionally "male" topics that were written by men garnered more interest. Similarly, female authors had more collaboration interest if their work involved stereotypically "female" topics (such as children, parenting and body image).

The researchers said the findings demonstrate that it may be more difficult for women to succeed in academic science. The preference for male authors, they suggested, is partly due to conservative gender norms.

"There's still a stereotype in our society that science is a more appropriate career for men than it is for women," Knobloch-Westerwick said. "Even among young graduate students -- the faculty of tomorrow -- such stereotypes are still alive."

More information

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides more information on sex-based discrimination.

SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, April 3, 2013

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